Occasionally I like to take a look at how the lawsuits against Bayer Schering Pharma and their birth control pill Yaz are progressing. Today, when I made my usual Google trawl, I came across a piece regarding the enquiries the lawyers have been receiving from women who did not suffer from blood clots or their consequential strokes and heart problems, but experienced the anxiety and depression that I had for a good six months before I realized what was happening.
I had been wondering if the lawsuits would expand to take in the effect Yaz can have on mood, but figured that they might find it too difficult to present and defend. For a start a lawyer is going to have to defend the woman against attacks on her lifestyle, drinking habits, any family history of mental disorders. It would be a difficult fight, considering how there's almost always someone who will have had depression or something that can be labelled as a disorder and how everyone has a bunch of defamatory stories in their past.
The medical evidence for why Yaz causes such extreme changes in emotional state is there, but in order to use that evidence the case would likely have to include the argument that all birth control pills have the capacity to change a woman's mood dramatically and that although Yaz's particular make up does add a whole extra layer to the problem, the problem is still there potentially with all hormonal contraceptives. If Bayer Schering were to counter the case of a woman who has suffered mood changes by saying that all birth control pills have the capacity to do this, then they would be opening up the whole industry to a lot of questions. The woman cited in the piece, Sylvia, claims that Yaz caused her to have panic attacks, constant anxiety and difficulty controlling anger.
Of course she has to temper her complaint with the acknowledgement that her experience is not as 'serious' as a blood clot. This is understandable, but that level of anxiety can lose a person their relationship, their job and put much stress on their general health. The spectre of the Pill's ability to cause blood clots has long blotted out the other side effects. It is the one thing the doctor might have warned you about, and the source of the original concerns in the late 1960s about this newly released drug. When it comes to blood clots doctors and pharmaceutical company representatives can pull out all kinds of graphs to show how rarely they occur, how minimal the risk is and, most importantly, how improved the Pill is since its high estrogen ancestor Enovid. I assume they are having a little more of a struggle with this issue now that Yaz has upped the stakes. Also, I would think there's a possibility of more blood clot cases as more women in the US and Europe can be classed as overweight. But all in all, in comparison to the emotional side effects of the birth control pill, talking about blood clots must seem like a piece of cake.
To start talking about the emotional side effects of the Pill would not only reveal, in a court of law at least, the entrenched misogyny of the medical authorities understanding of women - bringing up all those ideas about how women are so suggestible and how they get depressed because their subconscious knows they can't have a baby when on the Pill or how women are just generally neurotic and hysterical and such is their natural state - but also shed a sharp light on how the pill actually works and the morality of shutting down women's reproductive systems and messing with their hormone cycles for a goal easily and safely met by other means.
The piece goes on to mention a woman who's daughter was put on Yaz and saw her 'entire personality' change. After taking the young woman to psychologists and counsellors she finally considered it might be the birth control pill. The mother says, 'We were told Yaz is the new 'miracle pill' - that it will make you lose weight, regulate your periods, clear up acne, you name it, it will fix it.' Bayer Schering made the mistake of advertising Yaz as a medication to treat anxiety, depression and tension, it marketed it as 'Beyond Birth Control' and as such made itself far more visible than other Pills on the market, far more popular and with much more to justify.
I am very glad that the horrible experiences of many women, including myself, on Yaz have caused this issue to be raised, but I am a little afraid that as Yaz has made itself stand out so far that young women will not think of it as the same as other birth control pills and will therefore not see that all birth control pills can impact badly on mood and well being. The problem with emphasizing the diuretic, potassium-sparing element of Yaz as the cause for the mood changes is that the only answer then given is to swap to another brand of Pill. Also the inevitable, and not completely false, emphasis on the Pill having a different effect on different women, allows the actual facts of the way it works to get brushed aside. All women should be aware that their emotional changes might be down to the Pill, not just those who take Yaz.
Since the blood clot cases came into the newspapers there is all kinds of talk on online forums about stopping Yaz, the withdrawal symptoms and how long these take to go away. Many of the women were completely seduced, as I was, by its skin-clearing, weight loss properties and struggle with the consequences of coming off it - often very painful acne and weight changes brought on by testosterone levels rising. It is worrying, although not surprising to someone who has felt just the same, to see women opting for clear skin and skinniness over emotional balance in their bids to stop taking Yaz. When you've been taught your female body needs medicating, and you can't help but find comfort in the control the Pill gives you over your body, it is hard, even when you feel like you're going crazy - or especially when you feel like you are going crazy - to know what is the best way forward for you.
We are, I think, often too keen to forgo our health. I guess we only think as much of ourselves as we told to, and the Pill is sanctified everywhere there is to look. It is also difficult in the current environment in which it is believed that we all suffer from stress and anxiety as part of modern life to distinguish whilst you are still on the Pill what is a normal reaction to life and what is a side effect. Once you come off the Pill you know for sure that there's a difference, but when you're on it, you constantly question every judgement as a consequence of feeling so detached from your self and the people, the world, around you. It is just as worrying that women get so little support from their doctors, who sadly seem to see the answer in more pills.
The Pill is not the appropriate way to deal with acne or heavy periods, it is not the moral or the compassionate way, but it is also not the appropriate way to approach birth control. It is a crude, primitive and aggressive medication that has absolutely no place in the lives of modern women. The Pill is not a cure-all, but it is also not just a way of preventing pregnancy. In doing that one task, it does a whole lot more to your body that is unhealthy and unwanted.